NEW DELHI: A rapid survey on the working of state information commissions (SIC) across states after the lockdown during June and July covering “Unlock” 1 and 2 found that out of the 29 SICs nearly 80% (23) had resumed hearings during unlock – 1.0 starting June 1. However,during Unlock – 2.0 starting July 1 only 13 out of 29 (44%) of the ICs were conducting hearings.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) surveyed the websites of the SICs and made phone calls to their offices to ascertain their working status. Based on the survey findings, CHRI concludes that SICs need to address the dilemma between staying open and risking the spread of Covid-19 infection; and remaining closed and not promoting RTI. “Therefore, it is important for the SICs to establish a citizen-friendly mechanism for receiving complaints and appeals from people about government action at the state, district, tehsil or even village level,” CHRI has recommended.
During Unlock -1, out of total 29 SICs across states, 23 had reopened their office and were conducting hearings. Out of these, 16 SICs were conducting hearings through phone or video calls or using Whatsapp for all cases or only for urgent life and liberty matters. Five SICs had opened their office for the public and were conducting hearings in person. Information commissions of 6 states were not conducting hearings and out of these 2 states of Goa and Jharkhand had put up notice on their website regarding adjournment of all hearings. The other four SICs of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura which were not conducting hearings did not have any information about the working status of their SIC on their websites and calls made to their landline numbers were not answered,” the CHRI report states.
Six SICs in Bihar, Goa, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh are headless. Moreover, in SIC of Jharkhand, CHRI found that not only was the state information commissioner’s position vacant but they also did not have any information commissioner for conducting hearings.
“The SICs of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh did not have functional websites. They could not be located through any internet browser,” it is stated.
During Unlock 2.0, the CHRI survey, which continued well into the first week of August, found that out of the 13 SICs that were conducting hearings only 10 SICs were conducting hearings through phone or video calls or using Whatsapp. Three SICs had opened their office for public and were conducting hearings in person. Information commissions of 16 states were not conducting hearings and out of these SIC of seven states of Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha and Bengal had put up notice on their website regarding adjournment of all hearings. The other 9 SICs which were not conducting hearings did not have any information in this regard on their websites.